Many of my friends and family were shocked when I told them that E. – with me – would be attending a Spanish preschool for two weeks during our trip to Madrid.
“But, what kind of vacation is that for a child?!!”
“Wow! How did you make that happen?”
“Aren’t children supposed to…play??”
I’d laugh and remind them although rest and relaxation would be a welcome afterthought, the two main goals of our month-long trip were time spent with family and friends, and language immersion.
And, what better way for a 20-month old to absorb and use the language than with other native speakers her age through play? Hence: preschool!
So, that’s why, starting this past spring, I started researching and digging and reading and hunting. Looking for a Spanish preschool that would welcome my little americana for the first two weeks of the curso academico.
Having already spent months prior knee-deep in books and blogs about alternative educational models (I’m a teacher nerd, I know), I thought, why not search for an alternative school, like Waldorf or Montessori or even a Democratic school? They not only align more with my own personal educational philosophy, but they would – I assumed – probably be more willing to take a visitor for just two weeks, no make that two visitors. (Part of my plan was that I would attend with E. so that I could observe the type of the language used by the teachers and to take notes on the classroom activities so that I could implement them with E. back home.)
In my Internet digging, I eventually came across a beautiful documentary, Enséñame pero bonito, that chronicles the different alternative educational paths that several Spanish families, fed up with the traditional method of education in Spain, are pursuing. This, in turn, somehow led me to two different websites: one about the newly-emergent homeschooling movement in Spain (currently, illegal) and one, a directory of all the alternative schools in Spain.
It was through the Ludus directory that I located a list of alternative schools scattered throughout Madrid.
Then, I just started writing. E-mails. And, more e-mails. Relating my story, sharing my background, explaining my daughter’s situation, asking to join her at school.
For every no I got (“No, I’m sorry, she’d have to enroll for the whole year,” or “No, you can’t join her; it has to be just her.”), I just went back to that list and found the next e-mail address of the next school.
Until, I got a SÍ!!!
“I love your idea! Can’t you stay longer than just two weeks?” wrote the director of Escuela Allegra, a Waldorf preschool in a northern suburb of Madrid.
I had hit the jackpot!
Now, you may remember from previous blog posts my writing about my passion for Montessori education, and now think, why not find a Montessori school? Although I was at the time of my preschool searching and still am dedicated to educating and living out the Montessori philosophy with E., I considered it to be secondary to her language development. So, I confirmed with the school’s director that we’d be there come September. And, of course, per usual Spanish style, no details were confirmed over the summer; rather, it was just a “come show up and we’ll fit you right in!”
While I don’t have time in this blog post to explain what Waldorf education looks like, I’d like to direct you to some helpful websites, for those of you who might be interested in learning more. Please check out this site, this one, this one in Spanish, and this one.
In a word, our two weeks at Escuela Allegra were wonderful.
We were welcomed by the three maestras with open arms and lots of besos. Even though they knew we’d only be there two weeks, they treated us like “regulars.”
Our mornings started at 8:30, with free play inside. There were beautiful wooden toys and sweet Waldorf dolls, as well as a train set, play silks, and the cutest little kitchen set.
At 9 o’clock, Elena, one of the maestras, would transition us from play to bread making with a song (all transitions and most activities in a Waldorf preschool are accompanied by singing). Each child would sit in his/her own child-sized wicker chair around the large wooden table while Elena would begin kneading the bread. Another teacher would walk around and place a small handful of flour in front of each child. Then, we’d all spend the next few minutes amasando el pan, while Elena sang. Well, everyone kneaded, except E., who sat contentedly eating the dough. Ha! My daughter!
From about 9:30 until 10 o’clock, the children had more time to play freely with the toys.
10 o’clock, Elena guided us with another song as we cleaned up and got ready for breakfast. Breakfast was the same each day: organic oats and fruit. I appreciated the culinary consistency for the children; I think it helps a lot with picky eaters.
Finally, from 10:30 until 12:30, the children played outside in the jardin, where there were chickens and rabbits, a garden, sand pit, swings, slide and just plain old dirt and grass. Outdoor play is an essential part of Waldorf early education.
What were you doing the whole time, Audrey? You might be asking.
Something I love about Waldorf (and, Montessori) education is that free play for children is sacred. That means little to no adult interference or direction. So, basically, while the children played, our job (the adults) was to ignore the little ones. We did that by being engaged in our own work, which in a Waldorf classroom is generally some sort of weaving or sewing or knitting (activities that children can eventually imitate and participate in). Well, as chance (or Providence, whichever your inclination) would have it, I had just taken up cross stitch before our trip, so while E. dug in the dirt, I just sat in the sun and stitched my heart out.
It was a wonderful couple of weeks, and I already miss Elena and Ana and Yolanda. My time at Escuela Allegra left me with two more Spanish children’s songs under my belt, a clearer picture of Waldorf education, and a commitment to continue to nurture E.’s curiosity, imagination, and instinct to play. E. left Escuela Allegra with a few new words en español, dirt in her shoes, and flour all over her face.
As I reflect over this schooling experience, start to finish, from the first e-mail I sent last spring to the incredulous faces of friends when I told them of my plan, to the recuerdos inolvidables etched in my mind, I’m reminded of the life lesson, it never hurts to ask. Just ask. The worst that someone can say is no. The best that could happen is your dream plan becomes reality!
Thanks for reading along, friends. I hope this post has inspired you to ask. To ask for something that might seem a little crazy. Be encouraged!